By Dr. Elizabeth Linder
You’ve heard of the following potentially deadly childhood diseases—whooping cough (pertussis), diphtheria, and tetanus—but we rarely see anyone suffering from these serious illnesses these days. Why? Because almost all children in the U.S. have been protected from them by getting the recommended vaccine.
If you are willing to protect your child from diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis, are you also willing to get them a vaccine that can prevent cancer?
The vaccine that I am referring to is the HPV vaccine, which is highly effective in preventing Human Papillomavirus (HPV), a common virus that can lead to various cancers affecting reproductive and other vital organs in young women and men.
HPV is a very common virus. It doesn’t always cause cancer, but it does cause most cervical cancers, as well as cancers that also affect boys. There is no way to predict who will contract cancer from HPV, and we have no treatment for HPV, only for the diseases it causes. Therefore, it makes sense to vaccinate each and every young person.
The idea of vaccinating 11-to-12-year-olds against a sexually transmitted disease can be uncomfortable for some parents, and may explain some of the resistance to vaccination. But early vaccination provides protection into adulthood, and the vaccine works best if given before exposure.
Consider the following story, related by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), and included in a CDC flyer often distributed in places where the vaccine is administered (titled “HPV Vaccine for Boys and Girls Fact Sheet,” this flyer is also available at www.cdc.gov, on the HPV Vaccine for Preteens and Teens page):
A young woman relates that in her late 20s and early 30s, she had several abnormal Pap smears. After further testing, she was told that she had the type of HPV that could cause cancer. For several more years, her Pap smears were normal, and she gave birth to a healthy daughter and a healthy son.
Her first Pap smear after her son’s birth showed that cervical cancer had actually developed, leading to a total hysterectomy. She had hoped for more children, but that was no longer possible. The HPV vaccine could have prevented this, as well as saving her from countless hours of worry and for follow-up medical appointments and procedures.
It’s important to know, as this story illustrates, that the HPV vaccine is not just something that protects your child during the teenage years. The vaccine provides protection for many years. As with other vaccines, the shot helps your child’s body develop antibodies that protect against contracting the disease. Giving the shots at the recommended age allows enough time for these antibodies to develop so they will be present during the most common sexually active years.
Here’s what you need to know to get your child vaccinated:
- The vaccination is given in multiple doses.
- The dosage schedule varies, depending on your child’s age when vaccination begins.
- Children as young as nine can be vaccinated, but the recommended age for the first dose is between 11-12 years old. For children under the age of 15, two doses are recommended, based on a new study regarding the level of antibodies developed after these two doses. The second does is administered 6-12 months after the first.
- For children 15 and older, three doses are recommended. (Studies have not yet been conducted that show full efficacy for two doses in this age group.) The second dose is administered 1-2 months after the first, and the third dose is six months after the first.
- Both boys and girls should be vaccinated, as the vaccine protects from several cancers that both boys and girls may be susceptible to or carriers of. It can also protect against genital warts and dysplasia, a precursor to cervical cancer.
According to the CDC, “HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection … so common that nearly all sexually active men and women get it at some point in their lives.” The National Cancer Institute reports that, “Virtually all cases of cervical cancer are caused by HPV.”
The cost of the vaccine is covered by the federal Vaccines for Children program for uninsured children age 18 and under. Most medical facilities charge a nominal fee for administering the shots, and most insurance covers the cost of the vaccine and the administration fee.
At Grace Cottage Family Health, established patients can schedule a nurse’s visit for the vaccine. The administration fee is $22.
Please consider getting this shot. Do it for the sake of your child’s future.
Dr. Elizabeth Linder has been Grace Cottage Family Health’s pediatrician since 1997. A graduate of Pomona College and of the University of Vermont School of Medicine, Dr. Linder completed her residency in pediatrics at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque.